As we approach the playoffs for the American Hockey League, who will compete to lift the Calder Cup in June? The Playoffs will begin on Thursday, April 18th, 2019.

The AHL consists of 32 teams in four conferences from across America and each of the conferences has eight teams. The top four teams from each conference following the completion of the regular season go forwards to compete in the Calder Cup playoffs.

The playoff competition sees the final 16 teams compete for a place in the next round of the competition. This follows a ‘best of’ format with teams competing over the best of five games in the first round, playing both home and away; overall winners will progress to the next round.

AHL Atlantic Conference

Charlotte Checkers

Location: Charlotte, North Carolina

NHL affiliate club: Carolina Hurricanes

Division finish: 1st

First match-up: Providence Bruins

The first team to secure a playoff place and the league leaders since November 10th with the most regular season wins. Patrick Brown (#11) surpassed his career high in both goals (19) and assists (16) by the end of March and is playing good hockey right now as is Martin Necas (#3). The Carolina Hurricanes draft pick Stelio Matteos has signed an ATO with the Checkers and looks set to find a place in the team. All the ingredients are there for this team to go all the way.

Bridgeport Sound Tigers

Location: Bridgeport, Connecticut

NHL affiliate club: New York Islanders

Division finish: 2nd

First match-up: Hershey Bears

Back in playoff hockey after a two-year absence, grinding out wins over the course of the season with a good balance of young and experienced players alike. Keep an eye out for Chris Bourque and Josh Ho-Sang as well as attacking defenseman Sebastian Aho who is partial to more than the odd assist. The recent drought makes this team extremely determined and hungry to go all the way.

Hershey Bears

Location: Hershey, Pennsylvania

NHL affiliate club: Washington Capitals

Division finish: 3rd

First match-up: Bridgeport Sound Tigers

Hershey bears missed out on a playoff spot last season for the first time since the 2013-14 season and things did not start well for them this year under new rookie head coach Spencer Carbery; languishing at the bottom of the division early on. However, what followed after Christmas was a 17 game point streak that broke a 76-year-old record! A major strength for the bears is their goalie tandem of Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov alongside forward Riley Barber. This team are on a roll and have a point to prove having previously lifted the Calder Cup on more occasions than any other club in the AHL.

Providence Bruins

Location: Providence, Rhode Island

NHL affiliate club: Boston Bruins

Division finish: 4th

First match-up: Charlotte CheckersProvidence Bruins last game of the regular season vs Springfield Thunderbirds ended in a 6-1 loss. New goaltender from the Atlanta Gladiators (ECHL) Sean Bonar also made his debut in the third period, stopping four shots and allowing the final goal. Jordan Szwarz (#2) is a key center as well with as many goals as assists (23), leading the team in points (46) in the regular season. This is very much a team who seem to fluctuate and struggle in extremes for consistency, on the day who knows which way results will go for them.

AHL North Conference

Syracuse Crunch

Location: Syracuse, New York

NHL affiliate club: Tampa Bay Lightning

Division finish: 1st

First match-up: Cleveland Monsters

Now in its 25th-year as a franchise, March 30th saw the Crunch achieve its 900th victory. Keep an eye out for goaltender Eddie Pasquale who has played a handful of NHL games this season with the Tampa Bay Lightning; including the 6-3 win over the Boston Bruins in the season finale where he faced 30 shots. With 2019 marking the clubs 25th year they seem determined to make it memorable.

Rochester Americans

Location: Rochester, New York

NHL affiliate cub: Buffalo Sabres

Division finish: 2nd

First match-up: Toronto Marlies

The franchise, often known as the “Amerks” have not made the Calder Cup playoffs for the last three seasons and they are looking to progress, well, hoping to go all the way and lift the cup this time. The Amerks currently have seven additional players that are on recall to their NHL affiliate club but they are still eligible to play in the Calder Cup. Look out for D man Nathan Paetsch who has twice previously lifted the cup with other clubs and brings a wealth of experience.

Toronto Marlies

Location: Toronto, Ontario

NHL affiliate club: Toronto Maple Leafs

Division Finish: 3rd

First match-up: Rochester Americans

They are the current holders of the Calder Cup having lifted the trophy for the first time beating the Texas Stars and winning the series 4-3. The Marlies are in the playoffs for their eighth straight season and are the only one of the four Canadian teams in the AHL to reach the playoffs this year. Jeremy Bracco is a key playmaker with 57 assists alongside 22 goals, a total of 79 points in 75 games. He likes to be involved and should not be taken lightly. The Marlies are keen to retain the trophy and ensuring that it stays in Canada.

Cleveland Monsters

Location: Cleveland, Ohio

NHL affiliate club: Columbus Blue Jackets

Division Finish: 4th

First match-up: Syracuse Crunch

Qualifying for the playoffs in emphatic style, in the last game of the regular season, luck seems to be on this teams side. In order for the Monsters to qualify, the Belleville Senators had to lose in regulation and then it was in their hands to either win the game or push it into overtime. During the second period of the Monsters game, it was confirmed that the Senators had lost leaving it in the Monsters hands; they went onto beat the Toronto Marlies 5-1 and clinch the final playoff spot in front of an ecstatic home crowd. This team will be feeling on top of the world right now and believing that anything can happen.

AHL Central Conference

Chicago Wolves

Location: Rosemont, Illinois

NHL affiliate club: Vegas Golden Knights

Division Finish: 1st

First match-up: Grand Rapids Griffins

Wolves are a team with an interesting back-story after changing affiliation but they have continued to grow especially since forming an alliance with the NHL’s newest expansion club. Finishing strongly at the top of their division, keep an eye out for Daniel Carr who leads the Wolves points tally (71) having played only 52 games but then again, he does have the experience of 100 NHL games. This team looks to be hard to beat on their current form.

Grand Rapids Griffins

Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan

NHL affiliate team: Detroit Red Wings

Division finish: 4th

First match-up: Chicago Wolves

Griffins seem to be almost lucky to qualify for the playoffs ending up with the final spot after the last games of the regular season. They will look back wondering what happened, having been up much higher in the division for the most part in the tail end following a somewhat shaky start. NHL affiliate Detroit Red Wings have requested exchanges of personnel throughout the regular season, but now that the Red Wings have not made the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Grand Rapids Griffins look set to have a full complement of players. Griffins have a strong recent record in the Calder Cup and look to be poised with all the pieces back in place to provide a challenge to anyone who stands between them and another Calder Cup win.

Iowa Wild

Location: Des Moines, Iowa

NHL affiliate team: Minnesota Wild

Division finish: 3rd

First match-up: Milwaukee Admirals

This will be the first time an Iowa franchise team has qualified for the Calder Cup playoffs. Iowa finished the season taking three must-win games off the back of an eight-game losing streak setting records along the way. It’s hard not to be swept up in the excitement surrounding the team at the minute having just completed its most successful season in its modern era. With veteran players like forward Colton Beck insisting he doesn’t want the season to end, it becomes almost easy to think this team can go on and make even more history.

Milwaukee Admirals

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

NHL affiliate team: Nashville Predators

Division finish: 2nd

First match-up: Iowa Wild

Combine Manitoba Moose losing to Chicago and a final season 5-0 win over the Grand Rapids and suddenly the Milwaukee Admirals were qualifying for the Calder Cup playoffs with a second place finish in their division. The team are on a 13-game point streak and look to be one of the teams to beat; keep a look out for feisty Russian center Yakov Trenin too.

AHL Pacific Conference

Bakersfield Condors

Location: Bakersfield, California

NHL affiliate team: Edmonton Oilers

Division finish: 1st

First match-up: Colorado Eagles

Since securing a playoff spot at the end of March, the Condors have enjoyed the end of the regular season with a steady stream of wins whilst looking forward to their first postseason Calder Cup experience. Condors Rookie netminder Shane Scarlett has emerged as one of the top goaltenders in the league; making 40 appearances with a record of 25-7-5 including a 14 game winning streak in Jan/Feb. He was named alongside forward Tyler Benson in the AHL all-rookie team. The Condors head into the postseason in a strong position and are sure to challenge for the Calder Cup. Their chances will only be bolstered with the announcement that London Knights (OHL) defensemen, Evan Bouchard, will come into the lineup following the Knights exit in the playoffs.

San Jose Barracuda

Location: San Jose, California

NHL affiliate team: San Jose Sharks

Division finish: 2nd

First match-up: San Diego Gulls

Barracuda finished the regular season strong and as a franchise has continued to go from strength to strength since their NHL affiliate moved the old Worcester Sharks team in 2015. Danish center Alexander True tops the team in points (55) but also keep an eye out for defencemen Nick Desimone who has clocked up 32 assists and 14 goals during the regular season. Now could be the season the franchise goes all the way to the finals and lifts the Calder Cup.

San Diego Gulls

Location: San Diego, California

NHL affiliate team: Anaheim Ducks

Division finish: 3rd

First match-up: San Jose Barracuda

In the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons, this team want more than ever to make it all the way to the final two and lift the Calder Cup. The Gulls lost 4-3 to the Barracuda during the last week in the regular season handing Barracuda the home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Gulls are super keen to see this doesn’t scupper their chances. Sam Carrick and Chase De Leo are players to watch and could make a difference in key plays for the Gulls.

Colorado Eagles

Location: Loveland, Colorado

NHL affiliate team: Colorado Avalanche

Division finish: 4th

First match-up: Bakersfield Condors

This is the Eagles first season in the AHL and a combination of results in the final weekend of the regular season saw them secure the 4th place spot. There is no doubt that being only 50 miles away from there NHL affiliate club has helped considerably with both teams enjoying playoff hockey this season; players are known to meet and train together and crowds have been over 95% capacity almost all season for the club. Eagles are soaring high as they head into their first postseason adventures.

2019 Calder Cup Playoffs Brackets
2019 Calder Cup Playoffs

With it all to play for, many factors will be key including any NHL affiliate players returning, current streaks/form, injuries/fitness, previous experience, home ice advantage, fans, match day superstitions and record breaking.

As a Grand Rapids Griffins fan, I am keen to see the team do well although
matching with division winners Chicago Wolves is a tough first round. Other matchups I am most excited to see unfold include San Jose Barracuda vs San Diego Gulls as well as Rochester Americans vs Toronto Marlies. The San Diego Gulls have old scores to settle from the regular season and the last minute tip of home ice advantage. Rochester has had a fantastic season and Toronto are the defending champions.

Could first time Colorado Eagles go all the way in their first season and make it a franchise sweep if the Avalanche can win the Stanley Cup? As we all know stranger things have happened; at the end of the day this is playoff hockey, and anything is possible!

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My introduction to ice hockey came in the mid 1990s as my dad went to work in Detroit, MI during a work secondment. I travelled to see him and was encouraged by the locals to watch the Red Wings play - I don't think I could have picked a better time to find the sport and I have never looked back since. I regularly travel to America taking in hockey at NHL, AHL and ECHL. Following Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils, Grand Rapids Griffins and Kalamazoo Wings. I am also a season ticket holder at my local EIHL club the Coventry Blaze. Outside of a rink in the slightly warmer months I will often be found out and about travelling and enjoying life with my camper van, Hamish.